Officials with the aid group Doctors Without Borders say they do not know why Islamist insurgents attacked one of the group's clinics near the Somali capital, Mogadishu. The attack Wednesday forced the clinic to shut down.
There is growing concern for thousands of internally displaced people who relied on the clinic for free medical care.
The aid group Doctors Without Borders says it is still investigating the attack on its Hawa Abdi clinic, located about 20 kilometers south of Mogadishu, on a road that connects the capital to the town of Afgoye. Officials with the group, known by its French acronym MSF, declined to speculate on a motive for the attack.
Witnesses say heavily-armed Hizbul Islam insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades at the clinic before storming it. The attack sparked a firefight between the insurgents and security guards at the clinic, killing one guard and wounding others.
Hizbul Islam fighters briefly detained 20 local staff before shutting down the clinic. The closure has reportedly spread fear and panic among tens of thousands of internally displaced people who have received free consultations and medical care at the clinic since 2007. Hizbul Islam, one of Somalia's two main radical Islamist insurgent groups, has not responded to claims it targeted the clinic.
More than 250,000 internally displaced people live along the Afgoye corridor in harsh conditions. The majority fled there from Mogadishu three years ago, following the start of the violent, Islamist-led insurgency against the U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government.
An African Union peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM, has been deployed in Mogadishu since 2007 to keep the fragile government from being toppled. Most of the capital and many key areas of southern Somalia are under the control of al-Qaida-linked, al-Shabab militants, who are fighting to turn the Horn of Africa into an ultra-conservative Islamic state.
Al-Shabab, which is believed to have al-Qaida-trained foreigners among its ranks, has carried out numerous suicide attacks against peacekeepers and government officials. The African Union peacekeeping force says it foiled a suicide car bombing at one of its bases just last week.
In recent days al-Shabab has been the apparent target of three separate bombings inside mosques in Mogadishu and in the southern city of Kismayo. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks. But al-Shabab said foreign mercenaries in Somalia were behind the blasts. Senior militant leaders have vowed to take revenge.
On Wednesday, officials with the A.U. peacekeeping force warned that "armed opposition groups" are planning a series of synchronized suicide car bombings in public places. They said mosques and markets will likely be targeted and urged civilians in the Mogadishu area to be on the look out.
One Somali parliament member says he blames the African Union peacekeeping force and its western backers for plunging the country deeper into turmoil.
The parliament member, Dahir Abdulkadir Muse, says he is calling for the immediate withdrawal of the 5,300 A.U. peacekeeping troops from Somalia, because their presence is perpetuating the conflict. He says African Union troops are doing far more harm than good.
AMISOM says extremists are lashing out in desperation because they are badly divided by infighting and losing popular support.